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Golf: Smith Wins Senior Amateur Qualifier; Tolson Also Headed To Nationals

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, July 31, 2018   

Smith wins Senior Amateur qualifier

The LGA’s setup at Le Triomphe also provided a venue for hosting a qualifying tournament for the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship locally, and Dennis Smith took full advantage.

The long-time local golf icon, and father of playing professional Michael Smith, fashioned a stunning six-under-par 66 on Tuesday over the Le Triomphe layout to earn medalist honors and claim the one spot available to the national tournament set for Aug. 25-30 at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore.

Smith finished a full six strokes ahead of a 19-player field competing for the lone qualifying spot and earned his first-ever USGA national tournament appearance. That’s fitting, since his son Michael qualified for the U.S. Open Championship at Congressional in 2011.

“I’ve been playing really well so I expected to play well,” said Smith, who in the early days of Le Triomphe’s existence held the course record with a 63. “I sort of had the number 68 in mind when I teed off, thinking that would be good enough, and I beat that by two so I’m really happy with the way I played.

Smith matched 33’s on both sides with one eagle, five birdies and a lone bogey in his round, two of those birdies coming at the par-four fourth and the par-three sixth holes before play was suspended due to lightning in the area. When play resumed, he added a birdie at the difficult par-three eighth hole to make the turn at three-under.

His third par-three birdie came at the 11th to get to four-under before his only bogey at the vicious par-four 13th — “Gator’s Jaw” is well-known for its treachery during the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. But moments later Smith split the fairway with his drive on the par-five 14th and hit a 5-iron hole-high on the left fringe before chipping in from 20 feet for an eagle that all but locked up the national tournament spot. He added a birdie at the short par-four 17th to get to six-under and had an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th to get to 65, but by that point his spot was assured.

Smith has shot 66 several times at Le Triomphe, one of them coming in the final round of the club championship when he held membership there. He plays more often at his Oakbourne home course now, but hasn’t participated in many USGA qualifiers.

“I think I may have played in four,” he said of previous qualifying events. “I was talking to Grady (Grady Brame, who finished as first alternate with an even-par 72) and he said he’d played in 27 USGA national events. That’s pretty amazing.”

A total of 2,381 players attempted to qualify for the U.S. Senior Nationals. The final field will be set at the conclusion of the 50 local qualifying events, 26 of which had been held heading into Tuesday. Play at the national tournament will be stroke play for the first two days on Aug. 25-26 before the field is cut to 64 players advancing to match-play rounds.

Tolson also headed to nationals

UL sophomore Jack Tolson of Opelousas is also headed to a USGA national event this month, with Tolson qualifying in early July to compete in the U.S. Amateur Championship set Aug. 13-19 at Pebble Beach and Spyglass in California.

Tolson posted a 67-71—138 score on a rugged 36-hole day at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport, one of more than 40 qualifying locations, to tie for top honors in an event that had 72 participants vying for only two spots. Shreveport’s Carter Toms, son of now-reigning U.S. Senior Open champion and Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer David Toms, also shot 138 to claim the other qualifying spot, one stroke ahead of two other players.

Tolson has had a solid summer, finishing third in the LGA’s State Amateur and taking a top-25 finish in the prestigious Southern Amateur prior to qualifying for the U.S. Amateur.

Because of newly-relaxed NCAA regulations, the U.S. Amateur is one of three summertime tournaments that college coaches  can travel with their players and provide coaching and/or caddie services (the others are the British Amateur and the Japanese Amateur.

Courtesy of funds raised by the Vermilion Links, UL’s official golf support group, Tolson and Sliman will be making that trip in less than two weeks for Aug. 11-12 practice rounds and the start of 36 holes of stroke play Aug. 13-14. The top 64 of the 200-plus field qualify for match play beginning Aug. 16.

“I’ll be there to caddie, coach, help him,” Sliman said. “Jack’s really had a good summer and is really peaking nicely right now.”

“Making the Turn” appears Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.